July 31, 2013

Is Ted Cruz the new face of the Republican Party?

The Texas senator says activists are calling out for an unflinching, uncompromising presidential candidate. Someone, he says, like him.

By Wayne Slater / The Dallas Morning News

DES MOINES, Iowa — There's a message that Ted Cruz is hearing loud and clear from Republicans as he visits the early presidential states: no more moderates.

U.S. Senator Cruz, flanked by Senator Lee and Senator Vitter, speaks against pending immigration legislation during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
click image to enlarge

Ted Cruz seemed to be a hit on his first visit to Iowa two weeks ago, where he met and impressed a group of Christian conservatives who have played roles before in the Iowa caucuses.

Reuters

No Mitt Romneys. No John McCains. The next GOP nominee for the White House must be from the party's right flank, an unalloyed conservative -- a candidate like Ted Cruz.

"What happened in 2008 and what happened in 2012 with the failure of Christian conservatives to coalesce around a single candidate has taught us a lesson: the candidate they want least will end up getting the nomination," said Jamie Johnson, an Iowa pastor and member of the state Republican central committee.

The freshman Texas senator's foray into early primary and caucus country -- South Carolina earlier this year, Iowa this month and New Hampshire next month -- puts the deep division within the GOP between mainstream and tea party factions in a bright light.

Establishment forces warn that the GOP should temper its tone and become more inclusive or risk alienating women and a growing population of Hispanics. But grass-roots activists are pressing the party to move farther right and to reflect uncompromising conservatism.

Just seven months into his term, Cruz has emerged as a national model for those in the GOP who want the party to give full voice to the instincts of the base. On the issues they care about -- gun rights, immigration, the 2010 health care law -- Cruz does not compromise.

TAKING THE HARD-LINE APPROACH

"If you look at the last 40 years, a constant pattern emerges," Cruz told ABC. "Anytime Republicans nominate a candidate for president who runs as a strong conservative, we win. And when we nominate a moderate who doesn't run as a conservative, we lose."

Two weeks ago, in a closed-door gathering of Christian conservatives at a Des Moines hotel, Cruz quoted Scripture and preached small government for nearly an hour, pacing the stage with an ecclesiastical flair. Pastors laid hands on Cruz in prayer for him and the direction of the party.

Cecil Stinemetz of Grace West Church in Des Moines said afterward that Cruz should run for president in 2016.

"I shudder to think if they give us another Romney or another McCain. I'll admit, I voted for both men. But I didn't go out and get my neighbors and talk to people and really support them," he said. "But a groundswell could get behind" Cruz.

Influential Iowa religious conservative leader Bob Van der Plaats wrote on Twitter, from inside the ballroom: "If Senator Cruz continues communicating and leading as he currently is, the 2016 field will narrow quickly."

After election defeats in 2012, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the party's future success depends on broadening its appeal and reflecting greater tolerance for different views. That's not the message Cruz took from his Senate victory last year.

Cruz and fellow tea party adherents have positioned themselves on one side of the GOP divide, refusing to budge on gun rights and opposing a bipartisan approach to immigration. To block the federal health care law, he advocates shutting down the government.

Hard-core Iowa Republicans seem to love the message. But they have a mixed history picking Republican presidential nominees. White, evangelical, born-again Christians made up nearly 60 percent of GOP caucus-goers, according to exit polls.

George W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses in 2000, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were the winners in 2008 and 2012.

Johnson, who pastors Christ Church in Story City, was Santorum's state coalition director last year. He says a big reason an uncompromising conservative hasn't gone on to win the Republican nomination is that evangelicals haven't consolidated around a single candidate.

(Continued on page 2)

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